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Prime Prep's Chances Of Beating Odds Not Good, State Says

Ron Price, Prime Prep's superintendent, will appeal the TEA's decision to close the two year-old charter school. Price used to be a Dallas Independent School District board member

It’s 4th and long for Deion Sanders’ Prime Prep charter schools, after the state moved this week to shut it down.  Over the years, Prime Prep’s gotten bad press for public fights between co-founders, the possible illegal transfer of student athletes, and alleged governance violations. But what caused the TEA’s announcement is school lunches.

Sports-centered Prime Prep opened just two years ago. Since then, the student population, sparked by the star power of hall-of-famer Deion Sanders, collapsed from more than a thousand kids to below 500.

The Dallas campus withdrew from the University Interscholastic League because it couldn’t field a team that met with the state rules. And its academic performance is below par by Texas Education Agency standards. This week, the TEA said Prime Prep failed to follow school lunch guidelines overseen by the Texas Department of Agriculture, which administers the program.

“About 67% of the students enrolled at Prime Prep are students who qualify for the free and reduced cost lunch program,” says Debbie Ratcliffe, a TEA spokesperson.

“And we know children learn better when they’re at least not hungry. There’s clearly a need for the program at this school. The school demonstrated unsatisfactory financial performance that is both serious and has not been corrected.”

Prime Prep has fourteen days to appeal. Ron Price, who took over as superintendent in January, says it will.

“We have followed all the guidelines ever since I arrived here at Prime Prep,” insists Price. “There are some challenges to some of the guidelines, some of the things that occurred in 2012 and 2013, which we will address in our appeal and show that we’ve corrected those problems that happened in the past.”  

What’s more, Price says every Prime Prep child’s been fed proper, balanced meals despite its withdrawal from the school nutrition program.

The TEA’s Ratcliffe though doesn’t like Prime Prep's odds.

“There really shouldn’t be a lot of grounds to argue,” Ratcliffe says, “because they had already tried a corrective action plan with the Department of Agriculture and they hadn’t followed requirements agreed to.”

An appeal could delay a final decision on Prime Prep’s future well into the fall. Parents will have to decide if they’ll stick with the school and risk a mid-semester closure, or choose another campus before the new year begins.    

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.